The Reactionary Mind (Corey Robin)

41lmjf806tlAn interesting read, this, albeit a rather problematic one. Robin offers a particular perspective on conservatism, one that is… informed, shall we say, by his clear loathing of it; you couldn’t exactly call this a fair and balanced study in any way. Still, his particular view of how conservatism really works is an interesting and persuasive one; basically, Robin reckons that conservatism has bugger all to do with the things it’s usually supposed to stand for—democracy, individual liberty, minimal government, all of that sort of thing—but is actually “a meditation on—and theoretical rendition of—the felt experience of having power, seeing it threatened, and trying to win it back”. Meaning that, for Robin, conservatism actually only really exists in opposition to the threat of “change from below”: not just a fear of change per se, but particularly of change to a vastly unequal social order where there are the rulers and the ruled, and never the former shall cede territory to the latter. So all conservatism can really be described as reactionary and prone to violence (or at least thrilled by the prospect of same) with no real moderate middle ground or anything like that.

It’s obviously kind of sweeping and generalised, but then again a lot of right-wing blather I’ve read about liberals does much the same sort of thing. I do think the book’s more pressing problem is the one brought up here, i.e. the form in which Robin presents his book, as a collection of previously published essays partly reworked (except for one he makes a point of not touching up) rather than a cohesively worked-through book, which is what I actually thought it was going to be. So worth reading, but also kind of disappointing at the same time.


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